Using Social Science to Change the Public Understanding of Sustainable Farming

Using Social Science to Change the Public Understanding of Sustainable Farming

Red Tomato Awarded Northeast SARE 3 year $175,000 grant.


Red Tomato is excited to share it has been awarded a $175,000 grant over 3 years from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. These funds will support Red Tomato’s social science research, and grower collaboration to reframe the public understanding of farming in the Northeast.

Breaking Through the Good Vs. Bad of Understanding Agriculture

The common public understanding of farming practices in the U.S. quickly devolves into the organic (good) vs. conventional (bad) mindset, or frame. Yet, this frame excludes a large portion of our country’s farmers raising wholesale crops using a wide range of ecological and regenerative practices that have a positive impact, including in situations where organic production is not commercially viable.

Fruit production in the Northeast is a prime example where climate and pest pressures require the more nuanced practice of advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Like organic, advanced IPM growers assume additional risk and cost, and in return, they too seek public recognition and appreciation for prioritizing agroecological production. Recognition, commitment and willingness to pay require public understanding of these sustainable production practices.

Despite creativity and hard work over decades, farmers, scientists, and organizations like Red Tomato struggle to explain this method of sustainable farming in a way that inspires eaters to commit to sustainably produced fruit from the region. In a time when Northeast growers are rapidly losing market share to West coast production, addressing this gap in public understanding is critical to the survival of our farms and orchards.

Bringing the Food and Farming Narrative Project to Northeast Orchards

Red Tomato, in partnership with growers and university researchers, will bring the findings of the ongoing national social science research effort called The Farming and Food Narrative Project to Northeast orchards that practice advanced integrated pest management (IPM). Utilizing the social science of framing—the cognitive science that studies how people make sense of information, this project will research, create, test, and apply new frames (metaphors, examples, and narrative) relating to sustainable agriculture to the educational and marketing communications of farms and their advocates.

You can learn more about the Food and Farming Narrative Project on the Initiatives page!